Tuesday, 5 April 2011

Maynooth student at Rossport: threats of sexual violence by police

Two women, one of them a Maynooth student, were briefly arrested in Mayo last week and their video camera confiscated. The camera, in a separate car, was not switched off and when returned to the women contained not only a recording of what was clearly a needlessly aggressive arrest but also a discussion between two gardai, one a sergeant, in which they joked about deporting and raping one of the women. An Irish Times report can be found online here and an Indymedia report, with access to the full recordings, here.

The use of violence, including threats of violence and sexual violence, in the policing of protest in Erris and elsewhere is nothing new, but that makes it none the less horrifying and outrageous. It speaks volumes about the culture of policing that a garda sergeant, involved in the prosecution of sexual assault cases, could make jokes of this nature in the company of other officers - and that the response to the publication of the camera has not been for the officers in question to be suspended but for the name of at least one of the victims to "leak" from the station to tabloid newspapers. See this well-informed discussion of the garda response to the incident.

In 2009 the Minister for Justice vetoed calls for the Garda Ombudsman to review policing of the Corrib Gas dispute. In 2010 the Frontline human rights defence organisation published the report Breakdown of Trust which again called for such a review. The continued refusal to do so, and other official responses to repeated concerns over the aggressive policing of this dispute, are easily understood by gardai as sanctioning a continuation of such behaviour. Some good commentary by Vicky Conway of Humanrights.ie can be found here. A political analysis of the use of force by the Irish police against protestors, just published in Mercier's Riotous assemblies (eds William Sheehan and Maura Cronin), can be found here.

By contrast with the behaviour of gardai and Ministers for Justice, the courage of protestors who face this kind of intimidation for no personal benefit, in defence of deeply-held beliefs about democracy, environmental justice, community rights, opposition to corruption and the common ownership of natural resources is a powerful example of where common decency and hope for the future can be found.